April, National Poetry Month, the cruelest, and busiest, month for poets, is here again. We thought we'd showcase four poets with new or upcoming books to watch this spring. Poetry's alive and well, and here are the writers to prove it. After a bit of info about the book and a sample line or stanza, we asked each poet to answer this question: who do you imagine is the ideal reader for your book? Who is it addressed to?
Poet: Srikanth Reddy
Book: Voyager (Univ. of California). Reddy's second collection is a three-part erasure and reconstruction of the memoirs of Kurt Waldheim, former S.S. officer turned U.N. secretary general. All the words are Waldheim's, turned into poems that are unmistakably Reddy's.
I had the highest regard for him.
Who Is Voyager Addressed To? "When I was four years old, the American space program launched two probes—Voyager 1 and Voyager 2—into creation, each bearing a gold-plated phonograph record, which contained sounds and images selected to convey some sense of life on our planet. Included on the records were Bach and Indonesian gamelan music, diagrams of our DNA and geopolitical orders, and spoken greetings in 55 languages ranging from Akkadian to Wu. The intended audience was anybody out there in deep space who might find it. As I began writing, I thought I, too, was writing for whoever may or may not have been waiting out there in the darkness. But at some point I realized that the golden records weren't truly intended for an otherworldly audience. (The scientists did not include record players along with the records.) The records were mirrors. They were meant for us, not for others. Now I feel that I must have been writing Voyager for myself all along."
Poet: Tracy K. Smith
Book: Life on Mars: Poems (Graywolf). Smith's third book is a wide-ranging collection of lyric poems and extended sequences that attest to the notion that life on Earth might as well be life on Mars, given how strange, and totally messed up it is, full of loss, injustice, and plain old wackyness.
Tina says what if dark matter is like the space between people
When what holds them together isn't exactly love, and I think
That sounds right—how strong the pull can be...
Who Is Life on Mars Addressed To? "Someone who finds him/herself believing in some larger something that sits beside or beyond the life we experience here on the ground: the one with news and commercials and families and loss after loss confounding and astounding us day by day. Someone who goes back and forth between the feeling that what we are living is something deadly serious or some great hilarious joke. I was wrestling with these kinds of feelings, and swinging between the poles of grief (at the death of my father) and elation (at the upcoming birth of my daughter), and writing my way into and through these poems helped me negotiate the space that lies between those two extremes."
Poet: Bruce Smith
Book: Devotions (Univ. of Chicago). In poems alternately sharp, slippery, and tender, Smith finds a way to take in almost everything—"Shooter Protocol," Charlie Parker, high school shop class—moving seamlessly between critique and embrace. Smith's been closely watched for several books now, and this may be his best collection yet.
I said to my god with my indoor voice, my sloppy
ding an sich, my interior with extension cord and abyss.
Who Is Devotions Addressed To? "The book is dedicated to the beloved, so I imagine my audience to be the beloved and the belover and by extension—because what's a book if it's not an extension?—all beloveds. But first I must address ‘the interior paramour,' who is difficult, demanding [arms crossed, smirk], and skeptical of the whole enterprise."
Poet-Critic: David Orr
Book: Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry: A Guide to Modern Poetry (Harper). As the poetry columnist for the New York Times Book Review, Orr's pronouncements on new poetry books are heard far and wide. In his debut, he talks to both poetry readers and poets, hoping to help them get along better, while also doing a bit of anthropology on the social world of contemporary poetry.
"It might be interesting to think not about what poetry is, but about what we want it to be—to consider, that is, what it means for a poet to be ambitious."
Who Is Beautiful & Pointless For? "It's in conversation with at least three different groups: first, and primarily, people who are accomplished in fields other than poetry, but who are mildly interested in poetry, but who find themselves intimidated, confused, or otherwise bewildered by it. The other two groups would be people who are particularly interested and invested in the poetry world as it's currently constituted, and the book is an attempt to not so much argue with those people but to encourage them to see the binds that we all find ourselves in, that we might all better get out of them sometimes. And then, finally, I think it's directed to a lot of poets who feel shut out of that world, but who are good writers who often feel very discouraged."